Will the Other Claremont Colleges Defend Free Speech?

Aug 10, 2017 |  Rachelle Peterson

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Will the Other Claremont Colleges Defend Free Speech?

Aug 10, 2017 | 

Rachelle Peterson

A version of Rachelle Peterson's article originally appeared on Campus Reform. The full article is below.

When Claremont McKenna College announced it would punish seven students who blockaded the entrances to Heather Mac Donald’s speech in April, it did something few colleges have shown the backbone to undertake. It enforced campus policy in defense of free speech. In April President Hiram Chodosh said protesters had engaged in behavior that “violates College policy” and promised they “will be held accountable.” In July, the College suspended five students and placed two on conduct probation.

Claremont McKenna deserves some credit. I recently offered one-and-a-half cheers; to earn all three, Claremont should have prevented the blockade in the first place and kept order during Mac Donald’s talk. But at least the college followed through on President Chodosh’s vows to hold some students accountable.

We should now turn our attention to the other six institutions that, along with Claremont McKenna College, make up the Claremont University Consortium: Pitzer College, Pomona College, Claremont Graduate University, Keck Graduate Institute, Harvey Mudd College, and Scripps College. One hundred seventy students participated in the protest against Mac Donald. Claremont McKenna identified twelve of the 170 as Claremont McKenna students, of which it punished seven. The other 158 protesters either could not be identified, or were not Claremont McKenna students.

Where did these other speech obstructers come from? According to Claremont McKenna, some are students at the other Claremont consortium colleges. CMC claims to have sent the deans at these colleges “evidence of policy violations” by their students, and asked them “to review this evidence under their own conduct processes.” Claremont McKenna has banned four non-CMC students from visiting campus, on the grounds that they “played significant roles in the blockade.” But it is up to the administrators of the other colleges to take steps to suspend, fine, or otherwise punish students who broke college policy by disrupting Mac Donald’s talk.

Whether the other Claremont colleges follow President Chodosh’s lead in executing punishments will be a serious test of their commitment to free speech. A mob of protesters, many of them students, tore down a fence, swarmed police officers, and formed human chains across entrances out of spite for Mac Donald’s right to speak. Suspected policy-breakers should be given a fair investigation, with an opportunity to present any exculpatory evidence. But breaking college rules should come with consequences—especially when those rules concern a central purpose of higher education, the protection of intellectual freedom.

I asked each of the Claremont Consortium institutions whether they have investigated their students’ behavior during the April blockade. Three have begun reviewing evidence, and one plans to wait until the fall to investigate. Two believe none of their students participated or violated policies.

Here are the responses from each of the Claremont institutions.

Pitzer, Pomona, and Scripps are currently looking at evidence of potential student policy violations.

Pitzer College Vice President for Student Affairs Brian Carlisle: “Pitzer is in communication with Claremont McKenna College. We are currently reviewing all information provided.”

Pomona College Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum, via Marylou Ferry, Vice President, Chief Communications Officer: “We did receive photographs and information from CMC to review, as referred to by CMC in their recent statement, and that is in process of being reviewed with Dean Townes and Dean Waugh, who are the deans who oversee judicial affairs, and advise Judicial Council.  

“With regard to our approach, this past spring, we had conversations in our campus Student Affairs Committee (SAC), which is a faculty committee, currently chaired by Prof. Paul Cahill, and SAC oversees the student handbook and can make changes to student judicial council processes and with ASPC student government, that our usual process when there are complaints about general behaviors during a demonstration (such as the use of bull horns in buildings or some disruptive behavior during a demonstration) often involve a dean's warning regarding the demonstration policy, whether to specific students or more generally when we cannot identify specific students, and that future violations could be addressed by the Judicial Council or a Dean's Sanction.  

“With regard to an investigation, our general process with regard to claims of policy violations is that Dean Townes and Dean Waugh will determine the need for an investigation, oversee the investigation if appropriate, and then proceed from there, again, as appropriate.”

Scripps College Director of Media and Public Relations Karen Bergh: “Your query to President Lara Tiedens was forwarded to me as per our protocol for such inquiries. The statement you can use for Scripps regarding the student issue at CMC is that ‘we have received information from CMC and are reviewing the matter.’  There is no additional information at this time.”

Harvey Mudd College will review the evidence in the fall, when classes resume.

Harvey Mudd College Communications Officer Timothy L. Hussey: “In regard to your emails to President Klawe and Dean Jacobsen, the chair of our Disciplinary Board will follow up with CMC in the fall, when students return to campus, to discuss any allegations of HMC students violating the Demonstration Policy and any subsequent Honor Code actions.”

Claremont Graduate University and Keck Graduate Institute believe none of their students participated in the protests against Mac Donald.

Claremont Graduate University President Jacob Adams:  “To the best of the university’s knowledge, no Claremont Graduate University (CGU) students were involved in the April 6 protest at Claremont McKenna College (CMC), and CMC has not turned over any evidence that CGU students were involved in the matter.”

Keck Graduate Institute Dean of Student Engagement and Enrollment Services Sofia Toro: “We have reviewed the information by CMC and did not identify any KGI students.”

This means at least four of the Claremont institutions may have students who violated college policy. Harvey Mudd College President Maria Klawe, Pitzer College President Melvin L. Oliver, Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr, and Scripps College  President Lara Tiedens, we’re watching you. Whether you investigate fairly and promptly, enforce order, and punish policy-breakers will show whether you respect free speech.

Image: Mason Hall and the Academic Quadrangle, Pomona College.jpg by Nostalgicwisdom // CC BY-SA 3.0

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